At least 281 homeless people died in B.C. between 2006 and 2013, according to a new report released today (November 6).
The largest portion of those deaths was in Vancouver, where 64 homeless people died during the eight-year span.
The report, entitled Dying on the Streets, was published by Megaphone using data provided by the B.C. Coroners Service. The authors of the document stress that the estimate of 281 deaths is likely a “drastic undercount” due to gaps in reporting.
“Homelessness kills people,” former City of Vancouver homeless advocate Judy Graves stated in a news release from Megaphone.
“Having a safe place to live indoors is considered a ‘determinant of health’ by the World Health Organization. That means, without safe housing a person cannot hope to live out their expected life span. We all need the protection from the elements, safety from predators, and the predictability that a real home provides, no matter how small or simple.”
According to the document, the median age of death for a homeless person in B.C. is between 40 and 49. In comparison, the life expectancy for an average B.C. resident is 82.65 years.
Homeless people are twice as likely to die from suicide and homicide as the average B.C. resident. While 71.5 percent of the general population died due to natural causes in the time period studied, 47.7 percent of homeless deaths were accidental, and just 26.3 percent were due to natural diseases.
The largest portion of deaths occurred among homeless people living on the streets, at 56 percent, while 32 percent occurred among the sheltered homeless.
“These numbers starkly show how dangerous homelessness is in British Columbia and how much more likely a homeless person is to die by violent means,” the report reads. “It also reinforces the point that most homeless deaths are preventable if adequate housing and health supports are provided.”
The report makes a series of recommendations, including calls for a provincial poverty reduction strategy and a national housing plan, and for the B.C. Coroners Service to amend its definition of homelessness to include vulnerably housed people.
The recommendations urge all municipalities across the province to conduct homeless counts and to repeal anti-harm reduction and anti-camping bylaws. The authors also hope to see an annual B.C. Coroners Service report funded by the B.C. government on homeless deaths across the province.
“The number of deaths among our homeless population is deeply disturbing in part because they are preventable,” stated Sean Condon, author of the report and the executive director of Megaphone.
“Homelessness in this province is equivalent to a death sentence, but it doesn’t have to be."